Erosive arthritis in systemic lupus erythematosus: not only Rhupus

Lupus. 2021 Nov;30(13):2029-2041. doi: 10.1177/09612033211051637. Epub 2021 Oct 19.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)-related arthritis has been traditionally defined as non-erosive and is therefore considered a minor manifestation requiring a mild treatment. However, the concept of non-erosive arthritis in SLE has been challenged with the advent of sensitive imaging techniques, such as high-resolution ultrasound with power Doppler or magnetic resonance. The application of these new imaging tools has demonstrated that up to 40% of SLE patients with joint involvement can develop erosive damage. Thus, this more aggressive phenotype can be identified not only in patients overlapping with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This issue has been considered for the first time in the classification criteria proposed by Systemic Lupus International Collaborating Clinics in 2012, in which the old definition of "non-erosive arthritis" was replaced with either synovitis or tenderness in two or more joints with morning stiffness, suggesting the possible presence of an erosive phenotype. Accordingly, the 2019 EULAR/ACR's SLE recommendations advise treatment with immunosuppressant or biological drugs for patients with RA-like moderate arthritis. As a result, several studies have investigated the presence of biomarkers associated with SLE erosive damage. A relevant role seems to be played by the autoantibodies directed against post-translational modified proteins: above all, a significant association has been observed with antibodies directed against citrullinated and carbamylated proteins. Conversely, the rheumatoid factor was not associated with this more aggressive SLE-related arthritis. Nonetheless, some pro-inflammatory factors have been associated with erosive damage in SLE patients. These results suggest new pathogenic mechanisms underlining erosive arthritis, only partially shared with RA. Hence, in the present narrative review, we summarized available data about erosive arthritis in SLE patients, in the light of its impact on therapeutic decisions.

Keywords: biomarkers; erosive arthritis; joint involvement; pathogenesis; systemic lupus erythematosus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid* / drug therapy
  • Autoantibodies
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic* / complications
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic* / drug therapy
  • Rheumatoid Factor
  • Synovitis*


  • Autoantibodies
  • Rheumatoid Factor